Gay rights

Stonewall

44 years ago last month, the gay liberation movement began in earnest with the Stonewall riots, when patrons of Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn refused to stand down to police during one of their frequent raids on gay bars. The riots had a galvanizing effect on the fledgling gay rights movement in the U.S. In his inaugural address earlier this year, President Obama listed it as a significant moment in the history of civil rights.

To share the story with today’s audience, writer Michael Troy has launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance the comic book The Stonewall Riots for Bluewater Productions. We had the opportunity to ask Troy about Stonewall’s impact, Indiegogo, and how the comics industry can be more inclusive to readers of all sexual orientations.

For those who might not know about the Stonewall riots, why do they hold an important place in the history of gay rights?

Michael Troy: The Stonewall riots are what people largely credit as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement, although there were certainly others before it. But as Stonewall is the most well-known, it seemed like the place to start in order to get people’s attention. It certainly had a lot of fascinating aspects.

Over the decades, the riots have been featured in numerous films and TV documentaries. What advantage is there to telling the story through comics?

Troy: The advantage to comics is always an “unlimited budget.”  There’s a chance to educate a young LGBTQ audience that may not know “where they came from.” Comics are a great wealth of entertainment, as apparently Hollywood has discovered.

There are certainly exceptions, but American comics largely tend to portray white heteronormative experiences. Do you think there’s anything the industry can do to be more inclusive?

Troy: I think that’s hard to answer. You would like to say Hollywood is story-driven, gay or not — but sadly, recent years have proved them to be even more money-driven. Brokeback Mountain was a good story that happened to be about two gay cowboys; now, the major studios wouldn’t touch Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra as it was deemed “too gay.” I suppose they could be more inclusive by not using that phrase, for starters.

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With the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, the public’s acceptance of the gay community seems to be at a record high. Did that play a role in your decision to crowdfound the project via Indiegogo?

Troy: I wish we were calculated enough to use the death of DOMA as a huge P.R. advantage, but our campaign was already in place when the ruling was announced. I don’t think it could hurt.

What has the reaction to the Indiegogo campaign been like?

Troy: I think it’s been mostly positive. People seem to not know that much about Stonewall, which makes it seem more important [that] we’re doing it. Stonewall strikes a nerve with people and it should.

I think I’d enjoy the project more if people who don’t really need it weren’t jumping on the bandwagon–like known celebrities–and watering down the concept and edging out the smaller guys like us. HELP! We still really need it!

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

Troy: I want people to know being gay isn’t just “my two moms.” It’s been an American struggle. Not just an LGBTQ one. I want it to be part of American history because it is.

The Indiegogo campaign for The Stonewall Riots runs through August 2. You can check it out here.

“Homosexuality or any suggestion of it by illustration, dialogue, or text was strictly forbidden” – A 1974 memorandum from the Comics Magazine Association of America, aka the group behind The Comics Code.

We certainly have come a long way — from pretending that homosexuality doesn’t exist in comics to the announcement of a marriage between two male characters. Gone now are many of the stereotypes that plagued the first gay characters like Extraño (whose name literally translates to strange, or queer), DC’s flamboyant magician who was, at one point, infected with HIV by an AIDS vampire named Hemo-Goblin. Yes, things are decidedly different now, but are these recent changes, that are built on top of decades of slow progress, going to find the impact they seek?

For Marvel, the wedding of Northstar and Kyle feels organic, not something done as a stunt. Will it capitalize on recent events like President Obama’s affirmation of his support for gay marriage and efforts to both harm and further the cause of marriage equality? Sure, but Northstar is regarded as among comicdom’s first gay heroes, with his sexuality at first implied from 1979 to 1992, and then confirmed by Scott Lobdell in Alpha Flight #106, and he has been in a relationship with Kyle for quite some time.

If Northstar was straight and had proposed to a woman, no one would care or bat an eye and that marriage would be viewed as standard, but in this unjust and under-evolved world, same sex couples cause fear, controversy, and anger and there is a wall impeding their pursuit of that standard.

In real life, that wall stands due to prejudice and archaic legislation and in comics, it stands due to a fear of reprisal from the loud voices of small people. Big voiced, small people who have hindered the ability of writers, creators, and somewhat gutless publishers for almost 25 years since the Comics Code changed and the blockade on addressing homosexuality in comics was lifted.

In those two decades though, there have been plenty of out characters, but other than Northstar and Batwoman, most gay characters have been used in minor roles like Phat, been humiliated like Wing, quickly discarded like The Freedom Ring, or been a total embarrassment like the previously mentioned Extraño. Yesterday though, news broke that DC Comics would go against prior statements and change the sexual orientation of one of their existing characters in an effort to add another major out gay character to the landscape, with co-publisher Dan DiDio (the author of those prior statements) saying that that character would become one of DC’s “most prominent gay characters”.

Naturally this set off a firestorm, with most blogs and comic news sites (including this site) openly (and somewhat immaturely) speculating on who the new gay member of the DCU was, or as one site put it, “who is this mystery gay?” Hell, Fox News even weighed in, speculating on if the new out DC character could be Superman, that unyielding symbol of American virtue and value (save for that time he denounced his citizenship).

I for one don’t really care who it is, I care how it’s done. As I said up top, Northstar and Kyle’s engagement and pending nuptials developed organically, the timing is a touch curious, but it doesn’t really feel like a hollow gimmick. On the other hand, DC’s decision to suddenly mess with a characters origin story and switch their sexuality could very well feel exactly like that if it isn’t done properly.

Too many characters have been turned gay to get a bounce in readership and then left to fade away or pretend that this massive part of their lives doesn’t exist. I’m not saying that a characters sexuality should be ever present in all things that they do, I’m not personally interested in overly sexual characters regardless of their orientation, but I think the intelligence level of the average reader is high enough that writers can move beyond the habit of portraying gay characters as little more than a checked box on a diversity survey, or a eunuch. Let reality be a guide, and let these characters be truly multi-dimensional, because anything else is going to come off as DC trying to get some cheap attention, betray an origin story, and tweak Marvel as they try to break a barrier.

Sources: ScienceFiction.comThe AdvocateBleeding Cool, Seal Of Approval: The History of the Comics Code by Amy Kiste Nyberg